Candidate Joseph E. Passantino

Army Signal OCS Class 15-43

1 June 2017

eMail Received April 11, 2017; 1605 hours

Nina Beck here, writing from the Los Angeles area, on behalf of my late dad, Joe (Joseph Ernesto) Passantino, who served from early 1943 to early 1946 at the ages of 29 to 32 as a professional still and movie photographer (see attached images - one of him behind a movie camera; another, an article showing he opened a lithography plant, which became very successful - he previously worked for his brother's music printing co., Passantino Brands). He was extremely accomplished, and a popular man with charm who drew everyone in, and from the photos, it's obvious that the Chinese children and others in Kunming, and his fellow officers, took to him right away. He became a 1LT ultimately.


Joe (Joseph Ernesto) Passantino (Oct. 2, 1913 to Apr. 30, 1978) enlisted in the U.S. Army in Feb. 1943 at the age of 29 and attended Officer Candidate School, class of 43-15.  He completed the Officer Candidate course at Eastern Signal Corps Schools, and then the Administration and Supply course at the Officers’ School.  From 1943 through 1945, Joe served as a still and movie photographer stationed in Kunming, China.  Joe’s overseas assignments included running a Photo Detachment of 15 men assigned to cover campaigns in Southeast China, Apr.-Jun. 1944, and a Photo Laboratory of 28 men in Kunming, China, Jul. 1944-Jun. 1945, supervising all work and photo assignments during this period which included the Salween Campaign to re-open Burma Road.  He went to Kweiyang, China to establish a new photo base in Jul. 1945.  In August he moved to Liuchow, behind Chinese Armies, and established a photo detachment.  He left the service as a 1st Lt Photo Unit Commander in Feb. 1946 with a total commissioned time of 33 months, 21 of which were overseas.  Decorations: Asiatic Pacific Ribbon with one battle star, American Theatre Ribbon, American Victory Ribbon.  

Besides being well-liked by his military superiors and fellow officers, Joe’s talents, enthusiasm, skills, and charm drew the Chinese farm workers and their children to him right away.  The children were truly fascinated with his photographic equipment and all that he was doing with it, as can be seen in the photos in this collection.  In Aug. 1946, Joe’s article with original photographs, “Kunming, Southwestern Gateway to China,” was published in the National Geographic.  

Joe Passantino was the 5th of 6 children born to Sicilian natives Domenica and Vito Passantino, who immigrated with their first 2 sons to New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood from the small village of Cimmina, Sicily around 1900.  Vito opened his own business delivering ice a few years after arriving in New York.  His father’s work ethic was ingrained in Joe and he worked from the age of 7 to aid the family’s income, delivering breads and other baked goods for a nearby bakery.  All through elementary and secondary school, he was voted most popular, and he excelled in most subjects.  He spent two years at The City College of New York with a concentration in languages, earning high grades.  He learned French, Spanish, and some German; he was already fluent in Italian, having spoken it at home.  

From the mid-1930’s to 1943, Joe worked in sales for his brother Charlie (Vito Charles) Passantino’s successful music manuscript printing business, Passantino Brands.  After returning from the war Joe realized his dream to open his own lithography company, Joe Passantino Litho, which he ran until he became sick in 1977.  

Outside work, Joe was a lifelong athlete playing baseball in a semi-pro league, and boxing in amateur matches before WWII.  He also enjoyed speed skating, tennis and golf.  In the 1950’s he became a member of the Westchester Country Club in Harrison, NY and reached a 7 handicap over the many years he played there.  Joe married a model from the Harry Conover Agency, Phyllis Hunt, in 1952 and their daughter Nina Beck forwarded the photos and information in this collection to honor, and memorialize, Joe’s dedicated service to the United States of America in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during WWII.

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Joe Passantino Army Signal Corps photographer

Joe Passantino - Kunming, China

Click above picture to open full size version.

Passantino ID Card #1

Passantino ID Card #2

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Editors Note:

1) Posted on our August 2017 Home page is a more full story about Lieutenant Passantino, along with accompanying photos he took while serving in China. Entitled "Follow the Dots Assessing The Life Of A Signal Corps Officer," it covers Lieutenant Passantino's life in greater depth. Please click here to see and read it. Link to August 2017 Home Page

2) The U.S. Army Signal Corps OCS Association maintains an archived collection of over 1,000 pictures taken by Lieutenant Passantino, of his time in China during WWII. The Association has archived both the original photos as well as digitized copies. The photos are similar to those shown above. Additionally, the Association has on file a narration by Lieutenant Passantino of his time in service in China. Historians, writers, news organizations and/or academic institutions interested in viewing these photos and/or the narration for research and reproduction purposes may request copies. Depending on what format the photos and/or narration are requested in, there may or may not be a small handling, processing or conversion fee required.

Interested parties should please send their request for copies to: Please identify your purpose and indicate what format you request the documents to be in.